Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson Literary Styles Comparison | Free Essay Example

Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson Literary Styles Comparison

Words: 855
Topic: Literature


One of the differences between Whitman and Dickinson was the thematic elements that were utilized by the poets. For instance, Whitman’s use of slang and “common” language in his poetry greatly contrasted with Dickinson’s overly formal language, however, this difference in the type of words utilized actually embodied a greater difference between the two authors which will be discussed in the succeeding sections of this paper.

Stylistic Choices

This difference in word choice is of particular importance to take note of since the analysis of the article “Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians (2014)” shows that the use of slang terminology was an intentional aspect of Whitman in order to draw readers into the situations that he was presenting. The goal of Whitman was to create a reading experience that was, for all intents and purposes, relatable which would enable the reader to better understand the message or feelings that the poet was trying to impart. In comparison, the work of Dickinson focused more on the concept of God and spirituality and tends to praise God, criticize him, advocate for the performance of good deeds or exemplify the need for spiritual guidance (Ashwell, 2014).

Thematic Elements

While it can be stated that Dickinson’s poems have contributed significantly towards the incorporation of religion into popular poems that can be enjoyed by ordinary people due to the manner in which they were written, the fact remains that there is little in the way of being able to relate to what she wrote. People, on average, do not live, breathe, or espouse religion 24 hours a day and, as such, the poems are basically a condensed version of church sermons.

Whitman on the other hand placed a particular emphasis on utilizing everyday people, places and situations in order to appeal to readers in order to bring out what can be defined as a “sympathetic experience”. This term can be defined as the capacity of the reader to place themselves into the very situation that is being presented by the poet. In fact, the article “Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians (2014)” explains that there tended to be a “blurring of the lines” so to speak between the situation or person being described and Whitman himself. For instance, the poem “A Child’s Amaze” is a great example which showcases the “blurring of the lines” that was stated earlier. This can be seen in the phrase:

“Silent and amazed, even when a little boy” (Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians, 2014, p. 52)

While referring to a child that was observed can also appeal to individuals who remember being silent and amazed when they were little kids, however, this can also refer to Whitman’s own experiences as a little child


In comparison, Dickinson’s poetry was meant to appeal to how people thought rather than the experiences they had. For example, in her poem “Heaven is what I cannot reach” the following phrase is stated:

“Heaven is what I cannot reach! The Apple on the Tree provided it do hopeless hang that Heaven is to me!” (Ashwell, 2014, p. 85)

Such a phrase is related to the unreachable concept of heaven that people normally think about and, as such, shows how the work of Dickinson appeals more towards theological trains of thought rather than the everyday experiences of people (Ashwell, 2014). Aside from a slight similarity in verse and poem structure, there is nothing really similar between the two authors given their wildly divergent themes and styles.

Journal Entry 5 Transcendental Thought

One good example of transcendental thought comes from the following quote by Henry David Thoreau in which he states:

Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends….Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts” (Sullivan, 2005, p. 36).

This phrase can be considered as a prime example of transcendental thought that is applicable to present day life since it focuses on the concept of non-conformity and the need to focus on the self rather than on external trappings (Sullivan, 2005). For instance, the phrase can apply quite succinctly to the present day obsession people have with popular culture. It is often the case that people want the latest gadgets (ex: the iPhone), wear the latest fashions (ex: Converse, Gap, etc.) or like the latest pop idols (ex: Justin Beiber, One Direction, etc.). Yet, what people fail to realize is that they do not need these aspects of popular culture in order to live a fulfilling life. As emphasized by Thoreau, the given phrase can apply to getting rid of our popular culture obsessions and focus on what is truly important, namely, improving ourselves instead of getting caught up in what is popular at the present. What can be considered as “popular” is in a constant state of flux and can change very quickly; however, the concept of “the self” is something that is immutable and permanent. The transcendental thought in the phrase given by Thoreau helps us to realize that investing in something that is fleeting is foolish as compared to investing into something that is permanent.

Reference List

Ashwell, S. (2014). All Things Dickinson: An Encyclopedia of Emily Dickinson’s World. Booklist, 110(17), 85.

Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians. (2014). Publishers Weekly, 261(26), 52.

Sullivan, E. T. (2005). Henry David Thoreau. Book Links, 14(4), 35-36.